May 28, 2017
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Javier Bardem portrays Captain Salazar in a scene from “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales.” ( AP Photo )

GO Splash: Summer movie highlights

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Ready, set, go! The summer movie season got underway May 5 with “Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2” and continues through August with plenty of noise, swagger and CGI — and, quite possibly, some interesting movies along the way. Here are some highlights of the summer slate, broken into three helpful categories; note that release dates are tentative and as changeable as Captain Jack Sparrow’s accent.

Line ’em up ... need I say more?

“Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” (May 26)

Fifth ‘Pirates’ fights bloat

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The opening scene of the new “Pirates of the Caribbean” is a fitting metaphor for where we stand in this long franchise: A creaky old galleon is unceremoniously yanked up from the ocean depths and the only things aboard are cranky old ghosts.

A weary, battered fifth chapter — “Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales” — lumbers into theaters this summer high on GCI tricks but with a hopelessly muddled plot and recurring characters basically running on fumes.

Even The Rock’s biceps can’t lift up ‘Baywatch’

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Of this, dear moviegoer, rest assured: Dwayne Johnson’s biceps still ripple and glisten in the sunlight. So do his triceps, pecs, abs, delts, quads, lats and the other 600 or so muscles of the human body.

And that charismatic, multi-million dollar grin? Still there, too.

More thoughtful thrills in the ‘Alien’ universe

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The “Alien” franchise has always been a battleground for the philosophical and physical tussles for dominance between human, alien and artificial intelligence. While “Alien” set up the themes, character types, and iconography of this universe, 2012’s prequel “Prometheus” established an origin story and philosophy, bringing up questions of faith, spirituality and the risks of creating life. “Alien: Covenant,” once again directed by Ridley Scott, is the second prequel in the series, chronologically following “Prometheus,” and exploring the fallout from the events of that film, while offering a rich terrain for an epic battle between the differing forces in this world. The questions posed in the film are universal, and primal, and easy answers are never forthcoming.

The humans in the story are a plucky crew of space explorers; a tight-knit group of couples piloting a ship of colonists to a new planet that holds their dreams of a fresh start and new life. When a random shockwave hits the ship’s solar recharging sails, damage is incurred, lives are lost, and the team is diverted from its course. A rogue, seemingly human, transmission offers the opportunity to explore a closer, previously hidden planet, so they decide to try their luck — though this roll of the dice is made under some objection.

Charmless ‘Wimpy Kid 4’ is a long, gross haul

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Poor Alicia Silverstone and Tom Everett Scott.

Between “Clueless” and “That Thing You Do!” they separately led two of the most charming and re-watchable all-ages comedies of the ’90s. Cut to 20 some years later and they’ve been relegated to the thankless task of playing the dopey suburban parents in “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul,” a deeply unfunny family road trip film that has gross out jokes to rival the R-rated “Vacation” remake.

‘Arthur’ is different, but not great

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It’s bold, it’s daring, it’s a black metal acid trip. It will most likely give you motion sickness. It’s Guy Ritchie’s take on the King Arthur story, so naturally, this King Arthur (Charlie Hunnam) is really into bare-knuckle boxing, (see Ritchie’s “Sherlock Holmes” and “Snatch”). “King Arthur: Legend of the Sword” is unlike any other medieval warfare and sorcery movie ever committed to film, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good. This King Arthur superhero origin story is strange, invigorating, often outright bad, confusing and totally wild.

In this version of the well-known story (sword, stone, wizards, etc.), the film isn’t so much written as it is edited within an inch of its life. Most people assume that movies can’t tell an effecting story with rapidly edited montages alone, but what “King Arthur: The Legend of the Sword” presupposes is — maybe it can? It can’t, but it’s a noble effort.

‘Snatched’ is a huge disappointment with promising talent

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The promising young writer Katie Dippold, who wrote “The Heat” and “Ghostbusters,” strikes out with her third feature, “Snatched.” This mother-daughter kidnapping comedy starring Amy Schumer and Goldie Hawn is a huge disappointment, and for Schumer, this is a low moment of a career that’s been peaking. As Emily, Schumer plays her characteristic problematic white girl character, a selfish, selfie-taking narcissist. But there’s no sharp satire to puncture that image, as some of the best work from her Comedy Central show “Inside Amy Schumer” has managed to pull off.

Instead, “Snatched” feels like a rough sketch of a movie rather than a fleshed-out, joke-dense script. The story follows Emily, in the wake of a bad breakup, as she brings her mom, Linda, on a nonrefundable vacation to Ecuador, for lack of a better option (all of her friends seem to hate her).

‘Sleight’ fuses superhero story with a coming-of-age tale

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By day, Bo (Jacob Latimore) is a street magician, wowing passers-by with truly impressive sleight of hand for tips. By night, he slings party drugs in the clubs and on the streets of L.A. But all the time, he’s the protective guardian of his sister, Tina (Storm Reid), just two orphaned siblings against the world. In “Sleight,” co-writer/director J.D. Dillard and co-writer/producer Alex Theurer have created an unlikely superhero origin story, executed with the style, themes and budget of independent cinema.

The central conflict of “Sleight” revolves around Bo’s competing livelihoods. Magic is his passion, a calling so strong that he has subjected himself to physical extremes. Inspired by a Venice Beach illusionist he encountered as a kid who had carved a whole in his hand for an illusion, Bo believes that anyone can do a trick, but the person who’ll do anything is the true magician. A Houdini poster illustrates his inspiration to push himself to the limit for his craft.

‘Born in China’ is breathtaking

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“Born in China” is the latest installment in the “Disneynature” documentary series. It’s “Planet Earth” aimed at younger audiences, but any nature lovers can find enjoyment here, especially in the stunning cinematography.

While other installments have focused on specific species and eco-systems, “Born in China,” directed by Lu Chuan, gets up close and personal with some of the unique species found in China — pandas, snow leopards, cranes, Chiru antelope, and golden monkeys. Chuan’s team follows these incredible animals through the seasons and throughout the circle of life while incorporating Chinese spiritual beliefs about life and death.

Love triangle undoes historical epic ‘The Promise’

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The Armenian Genocide is a curiously unexplored moment in our modern history, cinematically speaking. That fact alone makes director and co-writer Terry George’s “The Promise ” — opening Friday at the Marcus Gurnee Cinema in Gurnee, Ill. — intriguing enough. Historical fiction generally has it over documentaries in inspiring mass interest, especially when actors as appealing as Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon are involved.

And indeed, “The Promise” is a sprawling and handsome epic set around the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. But despite the best of intentions, the film fails to properly explain and contextualize both what led to that disgraceful episode, which Turkey to this day denies, and why it escalated as it did. Instead, “The Promise” chooses to focus in on an unsympathetic love triangle that manages to trivialize the film overall.

Love triangle undoes historical epic ‘The Promise’

1

The Armenian Genocide is a curiously unexplored moment in our modern history, cinematically speaking. That fact alone makes director and co-writer Terry George’s “The Promise ” — opening Friday at the Marcus Gurnee Cinema in Gurnee, Ill. — intriguing enough. Historical fiction generally has it over documentaries in inspiring mass interest, especially when actors as appealing as Oscar Isaac, Christian Bale and Charlotte Le Bon are involved.

And indeed, “The Promise” is a sprawling and handsome epic set around the extermination of 1.5 million Armenians in Ottoman Turkey. But despite the best of intentions, the film fails to properly explain and contextualize both what led to that disgraceful episode, which Turkey to this day denies, and why it escalated as it did. Instead, “The Promise” chooses to focus in on an unsympathetic love triangle that manages to trivialize the film overall.

More ‘Furious’ fun with the ‘Fast’ crew

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The films that make up “The Fast and the Furious” franchise — inexplicably on its eighth installment — are review-proof.

There is likely no Rotten Tomatoes score that could affect the box office take. But more than that, the often silly, always outrageous, comfortably formulaic films about fast cars and chosen family have a charm that manages to permeate the crusty exterior of even the most curmudgeonly of critics.

Math film ‘Gifted’ is less than the sum of its parts

There are several positive factors in the mixed equation that is “Gifted,” starring Chris Evans and the appealing 10-year-old Mckenna Grace. 1) A brilliant and precocious yet sweetly empathetic young girl. 2) A devoted and decidedly hunky father figure. 3) And then there’s math itself, presented not as a refuge for social misfits, but as an exciting and elegant pursuit.

Unfortunately, the movie about mathematical formulas — which opens Friday at Gurnee Mills Cinema in Gurnee, Ill. — relies way too much on moviemaking formula, and the result is less than the sum of its parts. Indeed, “Gifted,” directed by Marc Webb, often feels like the incomplete shell of a movie.

‘Smurfs: The Lost Village’ finds its own path

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In the first few minutes of the animated film “Smurfs: The Lost Village,” I couldn’t help but wonder if this was going to be a terribly long version of the 1980s TV cartoon series.

Fortunately, “Lost Village” found its own path and became a sweet story about Girl Power.

‘Boss Baby’ is fun for grown-ups

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“The Boss Baby” derives its premise from the notion that when new babies show up in the household, they render parents into slavishly devoted employees with their demands and fits. Babies are like bosses, but more satirically, bosses are like babies, right?

That metaphor is explored in Marla Frazee’s children’s book, with a boss baby outfitted in a suit, complete with buttoned bottom flap, and now that’s been transported to the screen with Alec Baldwin voicing the titular boss.

‘Power Rangers’ is more goofy than gritty

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Back in the ’90s, you probably knew them as “Mighty Morphin,” and these days they take the pre-fix “Saban’s,” but we all know them best as simply the “Power Rangers.” Executive producer Haim Saban discovered the “Super Sentai” series on Japanese television in the ’80s, and brought the concept of teens in colorful costumes fighting monsters to American audiences in the form of the somewhat silly, but much beloved, “Mighty Morphin Power Rangers” series. Now, of course, we have the big screen reboot, for better or for worse.

Joseph Kahn’s “Power/Rangers” short film that popped up online in 2015 showed just what a truly dark Power Rangers project could look like, but this version of the “Power Rangers” is about as dark as a CW series: just enough to be taken (somewhat) seriously, but with enough of a sense of humor about itself to have some fun, too.

‘Beauty and the Beast’ can’t decide what it wants to be

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Disney’s live-action remake of “Beauty and the Beast,” starring Emma Watson and Dan Stevens as, well, the beauty and the beast, feeds on the nostalgia audiences have for the 1991 animated feature. As exciting as it might be to watch actors inhabit this beloved story, the film itself, directed by Bill Condon, seems profoundly confused, and confusing.

The fairy tale was written in 18th century France, and the setting, culture and costumes are faithful to that period. But the film also has to wrangle a 1990s era girl power heroine, as well as the all-inclusive identity politics of our current times. The result is a bit of a mess, lacking a unique cinematic identity and cohesive internal reality. But then again, this is a film that features a singing candelabra and a barking ottoman, so it’s best to check disbelief at the door.

In ‘Skull Island,’ Kong is drafted into Vietnam

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Not since Marlon Brando in “Apocalypse Now” murmured of “the horror” has such a brooding beast lurked deep within a war-ravaged jungle as the King Kong of “Kong: Skull Island.”

Yes, the big ape is back, this time with a rollicking Vietnam War backdrop and the Creedence Clearwater-thumping soundtrack to match. The year is 1973, Nixon is pulling troops out of Vietnam and American explorer Bill Randa (John Goodman) has convinced a senator (Richard Jenkins) to bankroll a quick expedition on the way out to an uncharted South Pacific island where “myth and science meet.”

Emotional ‘Logan’ cuts like a knife

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Forget Batman vs. Superman or Captain America vs. Iron Man. In James Mangold’s moving tribute to X-Men’s Wolverine, “Logan,” it’s all Logan vs. Logan. He strips away the spandex, the posse and the chaos, distilling the story down to the essence of the man, Logan, also known as Wolverine, also known as James Howlett. What’s left is the agony and the ecstasy of mutanthood, which star Hugh Jackman expresses as physical and mental torture. Logan’s greatest opponent is, and always has been, himself.

In this near-distant future of 2029, Logan shuns his mutant abilities. He drives a limo, racked with a hacking cough and a craving for liquor. He seems to be disintegrating before our eyes; he’s grizzled and mangy and those adamantium claws don’t unfurl like they used to. He mostly uses them for fending off hubcap bandits anyway. He toils alongside Caliban (Stephen Merchant) at a secretive Mexican camp to care for Charles Xavier (Patrick Stewart), whom they’re keeping drugged up to keep his apocalyptic seizures at bay. It’s not much of a life, or a legacy.

‘Before I Fall’ focuses on bonds between girls

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Boasting themes that are both cerebral and philosophical, “Before I Fall” is a young adult thriller that goes far beyond the surface level. Too often teenagers — girls, especially — are depicted on screen as superficial, obsessed with appearances and the happy-go-lucky lifestyle enabled by parental disposable income. But in “Before I Fall,” popularity contests are plagued by truly existential conundrums, with elevated stakes exacerbated by the fleeting nature of youth, and questions about the nature of life itself go hand in hand with the tricky maneuvering of high school politics.

There’s a supernatural-ish twist that kicks off all of this questioning. “Before I Fall” borrows a premise from “Groundhog Day,” in that our protagonist, Samantha (Zoey Deutch), must relive the same Friday, over and over, preceding a dangerous car crash. To make matters worse, it’s Cupid Day, wherein the entire high school celebrates Valentine’s Day with “val-o-grams,” rose deliveries that literally account for every student’s popularity points.

‘Rock Dog’ won’t have you howling for more

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The second Chinese-American co-production to hit U.S. theaters in as many weeks, animated feature “Rock Dog” arrives one week after the release of another prominent co-production, the fantasy adventure “The Great Wall.” Director Ash Brannon brings Pixar and Sony bona fides (he co-directed “Toy Story 2” and directed “Surf’s Up”) to this adaptation of rocker Zheng Jun’s graphic novel “Tibetan Rock Dog,” which mixes Tibetan culture with contemporary Brit-rock, and adds a splash of mob movies for kicks.

We start in a village on Snow Mountain, where a young mastiff, Bodi (Luke Wilson), and his dad, Khampa (J.K. Simmons), are tasked with guarding a bunch of ditzy, addled sheep from a pack of hungry wolves. An opening sequence, rendered in a hand-drawn style, nods to traditional Chinese art and music, and is folksily narrated by a mustachioed Yak, known as Fleetwood Yak, voiced by Sam Elliott.

GO Kenosha

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